So it’s summer break, or otherwise one of those rare periods of your life where free time is in abundance, and you’ve decided you want to volunteer instead of spending your afternoons binge watching Netflix. Or maybe you’re part of a club or organization that requires you to help the community for a certain amount of hours. Either way, I commend you for your initiative, but you might be overwhelmed by the vast amount of opportunities there are to help out–or perhaps you’re not sure what things you could do to, as many would say, “make a difference.” Here are some tips to narrow your options and figure out where you’re best suited as a volunteer.
Evaluate Your Commitments
While I began this article with the assumption that you’ve already resolved to use your time to help out those in need, it’s important to still keep in mind exactly how much time you have, as well as how long and consistently you will be able to volunteer. For some opportunities, one free Saturday afternoon is all the time you need to spend. If your free time only comes every once in a while, these events–typically races or festivals that only occur once a year or so, or perhaps the occasional stint at your community garden–might be ideal for you. Something to mention, however, is that unless you volunteer year after year, chances are the positions you’ll hold at these events will be something any layperson can do; this can be either a pro or a con depending on how much you’re planning on being engaged in the activity.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a position that you’ll be holding on a long-term basis (be that a couple of months or over a year), one could provide you experience in a particular field, then, obviously, a longer time commitment is necessary. There might also be some kind of application and/or interview process, a background check, and some kind of training or orientation.
See What’s Feasible
Consider how far the volunteering location is from where you live. As with anything, Google Maps is your best friend, and from personal experience, distance from home is really one of the prime factors that influence my decision to volunteer somewhere, especially if it’s one of those long-term opportunities. For instance, I’m pretty interested in art history and love to go to museums, so volunteering at one as a teen docent seemed perfect for me a year ago. That is, until I remembered that not only was the commute over thirty minutes long, but I didn’t have a car of my own, and my parents were unwilling to drive me; that, and where I live, public transportation is few and far between. Needless to say, I didn’t apply for the position.
This is not to say, however, to totally discount any volunteering opportunities farther than a ten mile radius of your home. Just think about your transportation options before committing–if you can carpool with a friend, take the subway, or invent a teleportation device, then more power to you!
On the other hand, there are also a variety of volunteering opportunities that can be done from the comfort of your house, apartment, or dorm. For one thing, you can make gifts or cards for those at hospitals or retirement homes, although you would still have to find a way to transport them. More pertinently, however, you could volunteer online. This article has more information on volunteering through the internet (and at other locations)! I will say, however, that it’s often harder to get service hours documented for volunteering online, so keep that in mind when looking for opportunities.
Pursue Your Interests
Last, but not least, if you’re going to willingly use your time to help others, you might as well be doing something you enjoy or pursue a cause you are passionate about. Evidently, I’m passionate about writing, which is why I’m transmitting this information to you at this moment, but this could be anything from tutoring underprivileged kids because you care about education or like children, to helping out at the hospital because you’re interested in going to medical school. On the other hand, you also don’t want to be volunteering in a capacity that goes against your interests; if you’re not a fan of public speaking, you might want to avoid opportunities that require you to direct crowds.
Ultimately, I want you, as a prospective volunteer, to keep in mind that volunteering isn’t just a one way street. Yes, you are helping others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help yourself, too.